• March 2, 2015

    Social Media: Living a Virtually Real Life

    Is social media “real life”? When we post photos of our kids playing the snow—is that real life? When we follow the Oscars via Twitter—is that real life? When we engage in heated discussions about politics on Facebook—is that real life? This was the topic at a couple of Pub Theology gatherings I attended this past week. Some say that technology, and in particular, smartphones and iPads, are interrupting and interfering with our lives. We’re never really “there” because any beep or haptic pulse sends us running to “see” what’s happening...

  • March 2, 2015

    Better than Fixed

    I was baffled. I thought I was being helpful and that my suggestions might begin resolving the issues. Yet these conversations routinely stirred up conflict between us. Finally one day when a post-work debriefing once again turned argumentative, Monica yelled (full disclosure: I doubt she actually yelled, but what she said had such an impact that it still echoes in my mind): “I don’t want you to fix it! I just want you to listen!”...

  • March 2, 2015

    Unknown...But Not Unnoticed

    Reading through the 14th chapter of Mark’s gospel there are a few characters there that I would group together under the heading: UNKNOWN…. BUT NOT UNNOTICED. They may not be perfect in their lives, or their expressions of devotion. But they are there. And God noticed. And through the pages of Scripture, generations of believers have noticed. Why no names mentioned?  I wondered that.  And the thought came to me – “Because they are you.” Oh. Could that be?...

  • February 25, 2015

    Ebola -The Multi-faceted Consequences

    Since last March, 3,686 Liberians have directly died from the Ebola outbreak. Although the number of new cases in Liberia has decreased dramatically and is currently very low, there is the ongoing threat of new cases. Hearing about the loss of family members and friends is deeply distressing. However, the numerous other consequences are equally distressing. The first, as we mentioned in last week’s blog, is that touch is no longer acceptable. Can you imagine no more handshakes, hugs or even pats on the back? Will this now become a cultural norm?...

  • February 25, 2015

    Promiscuous Pedagogy

    So our grandson is in Pre-K, which for whatever reason is called TK at school he attends. What content is getting into his head isn't always clear--I'm sure there is some. What's evident, and what makes me laugh just thinking about it, is the way he repeats pedagogy.  I don't know if his teacher has any idea how deeply she's affecting him, but it comes out in his rather extraordinary, ordinary conversation...

  • February 25, 2015

    By Wintery Light

    In the midst of an extremely busy semester, our college has undertaken a campus-wide study of sabbath, a challenge to consider the richness promised when we come into the right balance.  So it feels critical this week to intentionally gentle the pace and reflect. As an English professor that means turning to text.  To help us with a seasonal lectio divina, if you will, I offer two poems to help you find ways to slow down...

  • February 24, 2015

    Animated / Back to the Capital

    Sometimes, when you're learning a new language, words you've been using your whole life begin to take on a new richness. The obvious translation for the word "animado" in Spanish is "animated" in English. When we hear the English version, we often think first of animated films. Then, if we think a bit further, we might imagine an animated person--someone who is lively and energetic.  In Spanish, we think of something slightly different, someone who is is in good spirits, encouraged, or excited.

  • February 23, 2015

    At the Mineralogical Museum

    Hardness has advantages. I think of this today here in Michigan, where the temperatures have been so cold that snow absolutely crackles when car tires push over it. One must cover any exposed skin when going outside, and come back inside quickly. Time-to-frostbite is 30 minutes. Even the furriest living creatures need to hide. The trees long ago shed their soft, tender parts. Their bare branches, hardened for winter, tremor slightly in the brutal air. Flesh is vulnerable. Do I even want a heart of flesh?...

  • February 23, 2015

    Living with Beggars

    In the past 5 years preparing to come back to Uganda, we have received advice and ideas from others and made a  commitment to ourselves to better care for beggars. We still try to avoid giving foolishly and creating dependency, but we want to recognize the humanity of beggars and care for them in some way. We decided to give food to beggars we see in the market each time we go shopping. Honestly, it probably does not accomplish that much, but we hope that if we and other Ugandans give in this way we can at least sustain these elderly beggars to have food and drink for each day.

  • February 23, 2015

    Praying for Ukraine, for Iraq, for Syria, and for Russian and for ISIS

    We pray. We pray hard. We pray fast. We pray “Come, Lord Jesus, come, heal this dry and weary land.” And I wonder, in our anger, in our outrage of the brutality and barbarity of ISIS and the lies and sneakiness of Putin, do we pray for them as well? Do we pray for our enemies? This is a hard one. This is a tough one. I in no way condone their actions... 

  • February 20, 2015

    Siouxland Landscapes

    After forty years I can quote a ton of lovers and admirers of this landscape, Willa Cather to Kathleen Norris because, great beauty and even reverence exists in spades in what's not there. Emptiness can be its own great spiritual reward. Next week, I'll pilgrimage out to Pierre, SD, through Big Bend and Lower Brule Reservation, the Missouri River valley. Most of America would say there's nothing there, but I beg to differ because I've learned that nothing is really something...

  • February 18, 2015

    The Difference Between Fishing and Catching

    At Dordt College’s Day of Encouragement at the beginning of the month, local blogger and author Jennifer Dukes Lee spoke about her favorite childhood vacation memories with her parents which regularly included going fishing with her dad. Her dad always said there’s a difference between “fishing” and “catching.” Sure, actually Father and daughter fishing picture found via Googlecatching some fish is nice, but Jennifer’s dad insisted that he loved just spending time fishing with his daughter. He wanted to spend time with her regardless of how many fish she caught...

  • February 18, 2015

    Running Away

    I read somewhere last week that the Bible is all about people running away from God. It got me thinking, especially about my own life. At 17 I dropped out of school to sail with the navy and to get away from everything for a while and figure out some things in my head and heart. Even when I came back home again, I was always looking to leave, trying to find ways to go somewhere else.

  • February 17, 2015

    Mardi Gras

    While sitting in the breakroom at the furniture store where I worked during college, I once heard one of the salespeople at the store proudly announce that he was giving up swearing for Lent. He was vastly unamused when I said, “You’re not supposed to give up something you shouldn’t do in the first place, are you? That’s like saying you’re giving up child abuse for Lent or something!” I’m pretty sure that after I left the breakroom, he probably swore at me behind my back...

  • February 17, 2015

    Helping That's Actually Helpful

    After spending about a month talking about helping that hurts instead of actually helping, it starts to feel like there is no good way to help. But to believe that one cannot help well is as much as a lie as believing that helping should be easy or is solely about making me (the helper) feel better. One of the Bible verses the book, Helping without Hurting, uses Isaiah 58:10 where it talks about “pouring oneself out for the poor.” There is a sense that helping is not simply something one can ignore or take lightly: we are required to give...

  • February 17, 2015

    Resting Spots - Wisdom From the Garden

    What is true about gardens is also true about churches. Church life can be very hectic and rushed. But churches need resting spots, times when they stop, look around, and take notice. Healthy churches are not just intentional about ministry and programs; they are also put resting spots along the way...

  • February 16, 2015

    Transcendence

    “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” As far as I know, the county in which I live, Sioux County, Iowa, has no citizens of Sioux descent. What’s more, the town in which I lived for forty years—Sioux Center—is in no way a center for the Sioux.  For most of 150 years now, it’s been a center for the Dutch, who were and are of no close relation.  There lies a tale, of course, one that everyone knows:  here and elsewhere across the plains, we won and they lost...

  • February 16, 2015

    Pub Theology On PBS!

    Now, the two groups featured offer two different sort of events--one involves worship, prayer, and a speaker; one has no prayer, no worship, no preaching, just dialogue--yet both reflect a widening desire by many to seek new forms of community, new forms of spirituality, new forms of church. While the Pub Church is explicitly seeking to be a gathering place for Christians, or those seeking to know more about Jesus; Pub Theology gatherings tend to be open spaces for people of all religious traditions, as well as non-religious folks like agnostics, atheists, and humanists...

  • February 16, 2015

    Blessings and Curses - Do They Matter?

    I was reading the last chapter of Ruth this week, and noticed the community gathering round and pronouncing a blessing on Boaz and his marriage to Ruth (Ruth 4:11-12). It got me thinking – how much stock do we place in such pronouncements? Or, for that matter, in the opposite, when we utter curse words and expletives towards others. Do they just vanish into thin air? Or do they have a concrete effect? I suppose we could think of the blessing of the elders towards Boaz and Ruth as mere wishful thinking, as a send-off in a positive frame of mind. But, really, is that ALL it is? Really?...

  • February 12, 2015

    Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

    This year I started reading books together with my friend who is also the pastor of one of our supporting churches. The first book we read together was The Poisonwood Bible. Even though the book's setting is roughly 50 years ago, I was amazed at how many commonalities there are between the missionary life then and our lives in Uganda today. The book also reminded me again about certain things I love about African culture, and things I find disturbing and wrong. Just like there are things I love about my own culture, as well as things in it that I find disturbing and wrong....

  • February 12, 2015

    Knowing the Voice of God...

    How does God lead and direct?  How do we hear God's still small voice? First, we should be reading, reflecting, and thinking about God's word.  I am constantly amazed at how many folks who profess faith who don't daily read God's word.  If this is you, let me encourage you to start.  Read the Psalms daily.  Start with just one or two.  The Psalms were and are the prayer book for God's people.  As you slowly read, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand it.  Take time to read and reflect...

  • February 12, 2015

    Remembering the Past, Facing the Future

    Today's chapter in the story of Lake Worth CRC is that it is now being "re-parented". Sunlight CRC in Port St. Lucie, Florida, was once a daughter of Lake Worth CRC. Today, the child is doing well and has a vision for church planting and church renewal under the leadership of Pastor Scott Vander Ploeg. The leadership of Lake Wroth CRC took the couragsous step of "becoming unorganized" as a church...

  • February 11, 2015

    Take Heart, The Mustard Seed Is Growing!

    The kingdom of God has been in the forefront of my thoughts as of late. I have been having conversations about it with family. I have been discussing it with students on campus. And I have been contemplating the way it provokes us to engage the world around us. Yet, for the most part, I feel that I am in the minority. Bring up the kingdom of God and the hairs on people’s neck bristle.

  • February 10, 2015

    Tending the Inner Flame

    "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Ps. 46:10 If we open our mouths, the flame of the Spirit is quenched. As we shut our mouth, ask the Spirit to re-ignite the flame, and be still before and in the presence of our God, even the smoldering flame comes back to life. I am so thankful for the sabbatical break in my busy life.  A time for silence, listening, and growing.  A time to grow in dependent, listening faith...

     

  • February 10, 2015

    Community

    The first time I saw this t-shirt was a few years back when a group of students came back from Angola Prison in Louisiana. They had spent a week there with a colleague of mine whose heart is focused on ministering to the men who are imprisoned there, many of them for life. I remember thinking that it was funny. I figured whatever else was true of Angola, the folks there had a curious sense of humor. A prison referred to as a “gated community”? Well, ok….I guess...

  • February 10, 2015

    Jim Heynen's Ordinary Sins: Midway Portraits

    The gang of eccentrics that people Jim Heynen's latest book, Ordinary Sins: After Theofrastus, is a collection of midway portraits of men and women, many of whom deserve their own reality shows, most of whom we recognize not because they are strange--they often are--but because, as the title suggests, they are, well, ordinary, just exceedingly so. They're not us, but they're not all that distanced. Ordinary Sins is full of caricatures you can't help but smile to meet because you know them, both in life and in yourself...

  • February 10, 2015

    Katakwi TLT - Christian Stewardship

    I just got back from a week of Timothy Leadership Training in Katakwi.  It was very hot! So hot that the pastors were complaining each day about it and fighting off sleep. But regardless of such challenges, it was a very successful training. The pastors reported on their previous action plans, there were powerful stories of transformation. Many people got saved, families were reconciled, and even a health center was thoroughly cleaned by 24 church members, toilets and all. It was a powerful witness to the community. However, there were many action plans that were not successful...

  • February 9, 2015

    Heavenly Love

    “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Psalm 57:10 Many Christians have a hard time not thinking of heaven as someplace up.  Jesus Christ “ascended,” after all.  Jacob saw a vision of a ladder descending, and Elijah boarded a chariot that departed for all points upward.

  • February 5, 2015

    The Man from Stonewall, TX

    Here's the story the way the docent tells it. There are two halves to the boyhood home of Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of these United States. You can pick them out if you look. The close side belonged to the Mr. Johnson, himself a politico, father of the President; and the far side--the side beyond the center section-- belonged unquestionably to Mrs. Johnson, an educated woman of significant standing and righteous determination despite the lamentable excesses of the occasional rapscallion she married...

  • February 4, 2015

    Who's Job Is This?

    Starting to move toward where we want to be twenty years from now seems to me to be a non-negotiable task for rather under-prepared people. Maybe that’s the new version of ecclesia reformata semper reformanda. And, in that tradition, maybe we will see that, somehow, the saints turn out to be equipped for the job. But meanwhile, if you have some helpful hints to send along…

  • February 4, 2015

    Soul Survivor, Soul Cares, Soul Trains

    Soul care is taking care of yourself spiritually. That might sound weird for some, but it is so important. We are made up of mind, body, and soul. All three interconnected and locked together, inseparable, indivisible. Yet we divorce mind, body, and soul in our lives. We compartmentalize it to the point sometimes of ignoring the spiritual all together, letting it atrophy. Or, we try so hard to be spiritual yet don’t know how to properly care for our soul in a healthy way...

  • February 3, 2015

    Seeking God's Will Does Not Eliminate Our Choices

    The Jews used the patronymic names system where the family names would just trade places. Marcus Sekkel’s son was Hartog Marcus. I don’t have records beyond Marcus so Hartog was probably a name already in the family. The mother was Heimans so Hartog Markus’ son was Heimen Hartogs. Heimen Hartogs would name one of his sons Hartog Heimans, but we’ll meet him in a couple of paragraphs. The two sons took on dutch names at some point...

  • February 3, 2015

    My Post-Superbowl Confession

    I have an ugly Superbowl confession to make. Yesterday I cheered for the Patriots so that Seattle QB Russell Wilson’s faith perspective would be exposed. You know what I’m referring to – that post Green Bay game interview where he gave God so much credit for the win that it made you cringe. Throughout Sunday’s game, whenever the Patriots did well or the Seahawks did poorly, I said to myself, “So what you thinking now Russell… thankful to God right now?”...

  • January 30, 2015

    Planning for Growth

    Try as we might to change through our own efforts, perhaps even through New Year’s Resolutions, we struggle to do it on our own strength. Happily, as Paul says in the above verses, God works in us to do his purposes. So from beginning to end, it is God who does the work of changing us. Does this mean we sit back and do nothing? Not at all! But because of the Gospel (the good news of what God has done for us through Jesus), we gain the will and power to change...

  • January 30, 2015

    Created for Worship

    Have you ever came across something so beautiful and so perfect that you just were compelled to talk about it?  Maybe it was a perfect campsite on the beach, a secluded mountain overlook at sunset, or even a novel that you just can seem to get over?  Now consider the One who created and inspired all that we hold lovely and perfect.  Worship seems like a pretty appropriate response to his beauty and bounty! This week we and several of our Haitian colleagues are attending the Symposium on Christian Worship at Calvin College...  

  • January 30, 2015

    Going to School on Sidney Greidanus

    Several years ago I gave a talk at Calvin College, about the two-book preaching method that was evolving in my mind and at our church. After I presented, someone came up to me and told me that Calvin Seminary’s Old Testament and Preaching professor, Sidney Greidanus, had been sitting in the back row. I swallowed hard when I heard that news. Dr. Greidanus was my pastor when I was a boy and I knew he held the bar very high when it came to orthodox preaching. That night I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought. ..

  • January 29, 2015

    Words to Live By

    I very recently had a birthday, and as I move more and more solidly into middle age (despite my internal protestation that I can still—even if just barely—lay claim to being in my MID-forties), I also seem to be making inexorable progress towards sounding more and more like my mother. Which is not a bad thing, actually. My mother, who died over fifteen years ago when she herself was middle aged, did me the great service of modeling a life in which she didn’t apologize for saying what she meant...

  • January 27, 2015

    The Following Is Your Mission, If You Choose to Accept It...

    While I completely affirm that the bible is all infallible guide for life and practice, I believe such thinking forgets one key biblical principle: we live in a fallen world. That leaves us with the number one problem of churches and denominations. What happens when the members of a church or the members of a denomination change the focus to caring only/primarily about themselves?  What happens when these folks, perhaps even out of good intentions, focus on maintaining the institution or the past more than loving and caring for others...

     

  • January 26, 2015

    Freedom in Christ

    I was at Angola with a colleague and a group of students. We had come to meet some of the men at Angola and learn about how God has been working within the prison walls. Our week to this point had been uplifting; unbelievable in some ways. We had worshipped with three different churches pastored by inmates. We sat in pews with convicted felons – murderers, rapists, violent criminals. Societal throw-aways. Human beings made in the image of God...

  • January 26, 2015

    Counterfeit Faith 2 - Experientialism

    In 1973, one of the bestselling Christian books was J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. Twenty years later, in 1993, Henry T. Blackaby’s Experiencing God was published and itself became a bestseller. From knowing to experiencing: the difference in these two titles captures the growing shift in our culture from favoring intellectual knowledge to favoring authentic experience. It is probably true that Western Christianity has had a history of idolizing the intellect. However, have we now overcorrected to the other extreme?...

  • January 26, 2015

    Soldiers of the Cross

    Week after week, someone would choose "Onward Christian Soldiers"--that's what I remember, and that's why I even remember the number. "449!"--week after week after week. I may be wrong but I think those kids who yelled out that number made sure to choose "Onward Christian Soldiers" because they just plain liked the song. I did. No one chose the plodding old psalms; basically, it was "Stand Up for Jesus" ("ye soldiers of the cross") and "Onward Christian Soldiers" every Sunday, both of them old, red-blooded fightin' songs, a genre of hymnody dead as a doornail today...

  • January 26, 2015

    Book Review: Republocrat

    One of the things I am periodically curious about are Christians’ views on the government, political engagement, and the common good. I think it is a topic we rarely address, and when we do, it all too often tends to be chock full of arrogance, anger, or indifference. So when I picked up Carl Trueman’s book, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, I was very curious to see what the professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary had to say... 

  • January 23, 2015

    God Pulls. Sin Pushes.

    Our Triune God desires and calls us and pulls us towards each other; taking them from the weak space of isolation into the power and safety of community. For there, together, there is strength, there is protection, there is wisdom and determination to withstand the seductive lures of sin. As the well known verse of Ecclesiastes 4:12 puts it: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ever noticed how Genesis 3 records that the willingness to entertain temptation, and the fall into sin, happen primarily in solitary space... 

  • January 22, 2015

    TLT Amuria - Family Violence

    We discussed family violence - physical, verbal, and sexual. We looked at what the Bible says about honoring other people who are made in God's image. We were challenged to honor people in society that are not normally honored, following the example of Jesus (people like widows, children, those with mental disabilities, those with physical disabilities).We had difficult but powerful discussions about how to love and serve well in marriage. Many of the pastors stood up proclaiming that we need to follow God’s commands even if that means going against the culture... 

  • January 22, 2015

    Bible Club Blessings

    During the school holidays, leaders from Rockview Baptist run a really fun Bible Club. The kids come for a few hours, on Wednesdays and Saturdays for games, singing, prayer, a short sermonette, Bible study, memory work... and they collect points for being on time, bringing a friend, participating, memorizing Scripture, and finishing their Bible Study homework. Once a year they can use those points to shop in a "store" - filled with personal hygiene items, toys, clothes, school books, etc....

  • January 22, 2015

    What Do You Mean b y"Love"?

    But what has sacred scripture said all along about love and what do followers of Jesus mean when talking about love? While musicians have crooned about the Book of Love as being “from above” or “long and boring,” when asked about it by some first century professors Jesus summarized it for them: the whole thing hangs on two rules 1) Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind 2) Love your neighbor as yourself...

  • January 20, 2015

    Traveling Lesson: Look Up!

    It is traveling season for Presidents! During the first part of the year, Jackie and I meet annually with the Fellowship of Evangelical Presidents. This support group gathers to engage in interactions and learnings that are also laced with laughter and sometimes tears. The Presidents that gather are strategic in that we meet in either Arizona or Florida and use the trip to make connections with churches and supporters...

  • January 20, 2015

    Prophetic or Poor Taste?

    Sometimes you encounter something that is both annoying and thought-provoking. Last week as part of Calvin College’s excellent “January Series,” a capacity crowd listened in rapt attention for an hour to Tova Friedman. There was a time for questions for about 10 minutes at the end of her talk.  Time was really up when a man in the second row stood up and began to talk...

  • January 20, 2015

    Anchorage and Antioch: Reflections on MLK Day and the Segregation of the Church

    Anchorage, AK boasts the most diverse census tract in the US. I have been thinking about my city's amazing diversity today as well as an event that happened over fifty years ago. In 1963, just months after delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Western Michigan University. While Dr. King’s words over 50 years ago should have been a wake up call... 

  • January 16, 2015

    Fidelity, Patriotism, Humanity, and Courage

    Seriously, what you can be sure of, should you visit, is that there will be no one else there. That these two massive memorials stand so much alone and so richly at the top of a hill overlooking the Minnesota River doesn't mean they've become a tourist stop. They stand together, tall and magisterial, to help us all cherish the memory of the men who died at the Battle of Birch Coulee, not all that far away, in August of 1862, a major battle of the Dakota War. They stand on that hill to prompt memories most people would rather simply let slip away...

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